Thursday, July 12, 2018

Never Happened! (Or Did It?)

OK. I’ll talk about it. Not because I think it what happened a couple of days ago makes much of a difference. But because so many people think it does. 

There was a story widely reported in the media a couple of weeks ago about flight delay on El Al because of 2 Charedim that refused to be seated in their assigned seats. They were displeased with the seat they got because each of those seats were next to a woman.

They asked to be switched. Nothing wrong with that. It is when they insist on it and disrupt the flight until they get their way that it becomes a problem and in my view a huge Chilul HaShem!

In this case the incident was reported inaccurately. The initial report was that the flight was delayed over an hour to the great discomfort of all the passengers. But a Charedi passenger by the name of Katriel Shem-Tov who witnessed the whole thing informed a reporter for the Times ofIsrael that it never happened. The insistence to have their seats changed by those 2 Charedi passengers was accommodated in less than 5 minutes. The rest of that hour delay was for reasons unrelated to those 2 Charedim.  The delay was already posted in the terminal before any of the  passengers even boarded.

Everyone is jumping all over media reports and resultant outrage over this event believing those 2 Charedi passengers were responsible for over an hour delay which we now know is untrue.

But the fact is it did happen. It just didn’t take as long as was originally reported. There was therefore no unreasonable delay because of it. Which means that it would have never been reported let alone so widely condemned.

The fallout of the original report gave way to a lot of anger on both sides. El Al said it would in the future remove any passengers that refused to sit in their assigned seats. A Charedi MK threatened a Charedi  boycott of all EL AL flights because of this. I added my own two cents as well. All because of a false account of it by the media.

Some people have asked me to retract what I originally wrote about this or at least correct it in a new post. I suppose that is a reasonable request. Which I am doing here.  But my criticism is still valid. Even though in this particular case it did not lead to a Chilul HaShem it easily could have. Because it has happened before.

I have seen this kind of behavior first hand. There is a sense of entitlement that certain Chasidic passengers seem to have that ends up being a Chilul HaShem. I witnessed it personally on a flight to Israel when a large Chasidic family boarded the plane and started ordering the flight attendants around as though they were their personal servants! I’m not so sure the 2 Chasidim in this case wouldn’t have prolonged the flight had they not gotten their way.

It is not the time it takes to find passengers that are willing to exchange seats that is the problem. It is the insistence on it that is.

It’s one thing to have a religious issue with sitting next to a woman on a flight. Whether anyone agrees with it or not, people have the right to their own standards.  Even if they are extreme. Provided they do not inconvenience others by insisting on them. They can ask politely if it is possible to switch seats. If they are told no, that should be the end of it. 

The fact that in this case it didn’t take that long to accommodate them might have solved the problem here. But who knows whether that will be the case the next time someone insists on changing their seats for that reason.  Here is what Mr. Shem-Tov, the Charedi passenger  that witnessed the whole thing said: 
My guess is that the whole business with the Haredim didn’t take more than five minutes. Of course, I am not justifying their behavior and one should not cause a delay of even one minute…  I certainly do not intend this post to defend those two passengers
That is exactly right. The outrage expressed at this particular incident may have been misplaced. But as the Charedi passenger indicated, it is not really defensible no matter how much time was spent on it.

Even though when a bad act happens in a short amount of time (and does not exacerbate the situation) that does not turn it into a good – or even a justifiable act. As I told one individual who pointed out this media error to me (perhaps hoping that I would retract) - if a mass murder is reported to have taken an hour and it is later corrected by a witness saying that it didn’t take an hour at all - but less than 5 minutes… would that make any difference? The crime was still committed.

What does all this say about accuracy in the media? I think its says something we all already know. Sometimes they get it wrong. Which can have unfair negative repercussions and consequences that end up being unjust. Perhaps this happens more times than we realize. Does that me we just discard the free press as unreliable? Hardly. Most of the time they do get it right. It is a free press that protects us all. Knowledge is power.  What we don’t know CAN hurt us.

The lesson here is that the media should be a lot more careful about accuracy in the reporting. It may not end these kinds of errors. Reporters and editors are only human. And can make mistakes no matter how careful they are. But hopefully it will reduce these kinds of errors in the future.